We partnered with Tracksmith and Outside Magazine for Project PR to examine how using WHOOP recovery can help runners optimize their performance, and what we found was pretty remarkable.
This study showed that runners who used the recovery score to help determine their daily training load over an 8-week period improved their times significantly and sustained fewer injuries than those who used a static training program.
VP of Data Science and Research Emily Capodilupo is joined by WHOOP Marketing Manager of Women’s Performance and Running Allison Lynch for her podcast debut. They sit down with world-class runner Mary Cain of Tracksmith to discuss everything about this program and what we’ve learned from it.
Mary was a world junior champion in the 3000 meters and was the youngest person to ever represent the United States at the World Championships. She also made headlines in 2019 with a New York Times op-ed that detailed what she described as a culture of emotional and physical abuse during her running career. We’ve linked to that piece in the show notes and we recommend you check it out.
Stay healthy and stay in the green!
3:38 – The Fastest Girl in America. Mary details her storied running career and the culture of abuse she endured while running for the Oregon Project. She wrote about her experiences in a New York Times op-ed in 2019 (there’s also a video).
4:17 – Mary’s Mission. “Over the last year since I’ve shared my toxic experiences [in running], I’ve been really trying to carve out a way for me to continue to train at an incredibly elite and intense level while not falling into the same pitfalls that I did at a very young age.”
7:05 – Body Image in Sports. “There are cultural shifts in sport that need to happen and there are also some physical differences between the male and female body that have to be acknowledged in training. A lot of young women will experience that the conversation around [their bodies] is very different towards female athletes than male. When I was on the program that I was on, sometimes weight came up for some of the guys on the team, but it was usually a joking, boys club kind of language. But for me, there was this shaming and blaming and questioning of how much I wanted it. I think a lot of that comes down to just women throughout society having this pressure to look a certain way.”
9:57 – Optimizing Performance for Women. Emily recommends the book Roar by Dr. Stacy Sims.
12:27 – Avoiding Overtraining with WHOOP. “I think technology is something that is incredibly useful if it’s used in the right hands. I think when I first ever used WHOOP it was right after I had left the Oregon Project. … I still had an unhealthy relationship with my training because I was so brought up in this overtraining mindset. When I first got WHOOP I almost had a slightly negative relationship with it because any time I saw myself in the red, rather than just take it as information, I would think, ‘Oh my god, I’m failing.’ I would wreck my day because I was in the red.”
15:18 – Balancing Green, Yellow, and Red Recoveries. “I do think that a lot of people [think the WHOOP recovery score] is like a report card and that red means you failed. That’s so not true. Green isn’t even an A. If you’re getting nonstop green recovery scores you’re probably not pushing your body or training very well and that really quickly is going to turn into detraining. If you’re getting nonstop reds, that’s not great. You want to see over the course of a couple of days that you’re cycling through these values. You should push your body and red means that you pushed your body, but when you back off you do want to see that it comes back and you get those green scores.”
16:28 – Project PR. Allison details the goals of Project PR and why WHOOP launched this study in an effort to help runners reduce injury and increase longevity. “We wanted to put the WHOOP data to the test to see if training via WHOOP recovery, monitoring things like strain and sleep, as opposed to following a static running plan without those metrics could make a difference in improving performance.”
18:52 – Structuring the Study. Mary details how the study was designed and how runners of all abilities were able to participate in the project.
24:04 – Key Study Takeaways. Beginning runners improved their 5k times by three-and-a-half minutes during the program, while more advanced runners saw their times tick down by about one-and-a-half minutes. Additionally, runners who based their training on the WHOOP recovery score sustained far fewer injuries (30% less) than runners who were not basing their training on their recovery score.
26:16 – Avoiding Injury. “[The study shows] that training based on what your body is ready for, or based on your recovery score, can result in better performance and lower risk of injury.”
28:56 – Less is More. “Sometimes taking a day off and listening to your body and doing a little bit less is really just protecting you.”
30:40 – Training to HRV. Emily cites a study by Dr. Daniel Plews that detailed an 8-week training program for elite cyclists based on HRV guided training.
33:50 – Understanding What Your Body Needs. “For us Type A runner personalities, it’s really good to have that positive reinforcement that listening to your body is actually the best way to become a great athlete.”
37:52 – Sleep and Performance. Emily references a 2011 Stanford study by Dr. Cheri Mah showing a documented connection between increased sleep and decreased injuries.
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